Black Skin & Fashion
The New Black Vanguard Exhibition is Coming to a Place Near You (hopefully)
At a recent visit to the Detroit Institute of Art, I was lucky enough to catch the last day of the exhibition, The New Black Vanguard — Photography Between Art and Fashion. The photos in this collection were nothing less than stunning. It was a celebration of the colorful attire of several African cultures and a celebration of dark skin.
There is a new breed of photographers capturing black images across the globe. These photographers capture images of contemporary Black life and erase barriers simultaneously regarding culture and gender. These are diverse photographs that capture the natural beauty of the body and nature and present a new perspective on the possibilities and diversity within the Black diaspora.
The images are from many sources such as lifestyle magazines, ad campaigns, museums, and social media, and merge art, fashion, in culture. The overall effect is stunning.
Like music, Black fashion has always been linked to Black art. Antwaun Sargent’s book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art & Fashion, was published in 2019 and featured the work now on display in the exhibition. The exhibition started in New York and travels worldwide concurrently with two sets of identical prints, one set in Europe and the other in the United States. So far, Besides Detroit, the images have traveled to Australia, Doha, Qatar, France, and Baltimore. The next stop is Cleveland and then California’s Museum of the African Diaspora. For those missing out on the exhibition, there is also a book that can be purchased with the same title as the museum exhibition, and if there is one coffee table book you should buy, it is this one.
The photographers included in this exhibition are; Lawrence Agyei, Daveed Baptiste, Faith Couch, Yannis Davy Guibinga, Delphine Diallo, Rhea Dillon, Justin French, Erica Génécé, Denzel Golatt, Travis Gumbs, Texas Isaiah, Seye Isikalu, Adama Jalloh, Manny Jefferson, Joshua Kissi, Myles Loftin, Ronan Mckenzie, Tyra Mitchell, Travys Owen, Lucie Rox, Makeda Sandford, Cécile Smetana Baudier, Isaac West, and Joshua Woods. For photographers and art lovers, you should look up the work of these magnificent photographers.
Please make no mistake; this exhibition is about as much about skin color as the fashion it is displaying. Some of the models are nude, and some of the dark skin contrasting with the bright shades of red, yellow, green, and orange are just as much part of their clothing ensemble. I could not escape the thought of fetishized Black skin, or more to the point, a fetishization of Black skin when I observed these photographs. Very dark skin is intriguing, even to African Americans. The world has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to accepting and normalization of dark skin color. Black skin is treated as exotic and is in fashion for magazine covers and social media. But cultural thoughts about skin color do not take away the beauty of these photographs, and as a photographer, this is the best photo exhibit I have ever seen. If it comes to a city near you, please visit and enjoy all colors.
Note: These photographs are the artist’s work, and I have not altered them in any way other than cropping them. No picture is going to absolutely replicate the original. However, I tried to keep my photograph of these photographs as close to the original as possible.